In March 2021, eastern Australia experienced devastating flooding as a result of La Niña weather pattern, which brought greater rain and tropical cyclones during the summer (in the southern hemisphere). Up to 35 inches of rain fell in just four days, and some places saw their worst flooding in 60 years. It also resulted in significant discharge from Sydney’s largest dam (Warragamba Dam) – 500 gigalitres of water, which is equivalent to the volume of Sydney Harbor.
This event necessitated a review of Australia’s capacity to manage and maintain resilient water supply systems. In New South Wales, four agencies manage the operations of the river system and other water delivery systems in eastern Australia. The state’s rivers and water supply systems are managed in accordance with the rules set out by NSW Department of Industry. These rules require the utilities to provide authorities with information to keep them updated about the current problems and also provide alternate mitigation measures to help prepare them for the future ones.
Most utilities in the world currently use telemetry and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, often referred to as “operational technology,” to monitor and control network operations. It is imperative to understand the impact of seasonal flooding on utility operations; it is also an opportunity to examine the future of water data management using advanced technologies like Internet of things (IOT) and their role in preparing for future unanticipated water related events.
The Benefits of Operational Technology
Traditional approaches to operational technology (OT) in utilities industry typically strive to create an environment that detects change through direct monitoring of industrial equipment, assets, processes, and events and to effect changes in operations. But new advances in technology are leading to new benefits.
Remote sensor data provides authorities with detailed, reliable, real-time information about damaged locations or faulty equipment so that they can take action and undertake damage mitigation measures. Obviously, this is especially important in emergencies when time, safety, and human life are at a critical juncture. Flood water diversion, evacuation, rescue, resettlement, water pollution and related health hazards, and service interruptions are time-critical.
Sensors can provide useful, actionable information to help with these use cases:
Operations and monitoring of bulk water supply: Moving water from storage locations to drinking water catchments that ultimately serve customers
Source water protection: Protection of the drinking water catchment to ensure safe water for treatment and distribution to their customers
System operation: Efficient management of the surface and groundwater resources to maximize reliability for users
Bulk water supply infrastructure planning, delivery, and operation: To meet customer-defined levels of service consistent with government policy and to increase the security and reliability of water delivery systems to customers and communities
Water transaction and information services: Provide efficient and timely services to customers
A sensor-based approach is ambitious. A good, modern water data management system will have thousands, and possibly millions, of sensors and data loggers (see section below on Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT). This demands an equally robust data platform for turning those data into insights and the basis for action.
Data is the Foundation
Modern technology – in other words digital transformation – is a central component of the new approach to operational technology for efficient data gathering, storing, and making those gathered data useful. To solve current and future problems in water supply infrastructure, systems must be completely capable of transferring water data to surveillance teams, including operations, maintenance, and disaster management. This will help them in effective monitoring and then responding to any unnatural water level occurrences, etc. at any point of time.
Many built-in features of existing water data management systems – including device management, data acquisition, data visualization, alarm and event management, and platform security – facilitate remote monitoring. Yet these characteristics do not convert into robust, effective solutions. Antiquated and inefficient traditional approaches can result in outdated, inaccurate, and incomplete data and asset measurements.
Let’s throw some light on the differences between application of traditional OT applications and modern IOT-based solutions.